Baby monitors buying guide
Baby monitors are there to reassure you that your child is sleeping soundly and to let you know if they wake up during the night and need your attention. Monitors are especially useful at night time as you may sleep more soundly knowing that you will definitely wake up if your baby cries. There are a wide variety of makes and models available, and there are even baby camera monitors so that you can see and hear your newborn as he or she sleeps. Some monitors offer movement detection that can pick up when your baby is active. The range of monitors and features can be bewildering, so Tesco have compiled this baby monitor buying guide to help you find the right one for you and your baby.
What's the difference between an audio and audio/visual monitor?
Monitors can offer audio (just sound) or audio and visual (so you can see and hear your baby).
Many audio (sound only) monitors have lights as well. You can have the sound off - so you don't hear every little squeak - but the louder the sound, the more lights light up. This means you will be made aware of crying even if the monitor is on mute. Audio monitors tend to be less expensive than audio/video.
These monitors feature a small camera which transmits images of your baby to a monitor. This way you can both hear and see what your baby is doing when you are not in the room. While audio is useful for waking you up, being able to see your baby - and maybe identify why they are crying - might be able to save you some trips from your bed to their bedside. This is especially the case if you have a 'talkback' feature - more about that later.
Analogue or digital baby monitor
Baby monitors function via radio waves. The monitors tend to consist of a base unit with a microphone and a portable receiver - usually known as the parent unit. The microphone sits by your baby's cot and the receiver either in the living room or by your bed.
The two main types of baby monitor are analogue and digital and the main differences between the two are range and clarity.
Analogue baby monitors
Since they use an older technology, analogue baby monitors are increasingly less common than their digital counterparts. In fact, there is only a handful on the market these days. They tend to offer a cheaper alternative, but are more prone to static and interference from other electrical equipment nearby.
There can be privacy concerns relating to older analogue baby monitors, as you may find that you are able to pick up your neighbours' activities, or that they can listen in on what's going on in your house. The closer your monitor's frequency is to that of another device (like an older cordless phone) the more likely it is that you may hear static or conversations from other houses.
Some models have multiple channels that let you find a clearer channel for the audio signal. Analogue baby monitors don't have a particularly long range, but they should be more than adequate for an average sized home. However, bear in mind that walls and other structures can interrupt the range and so it may not be as advertised by the manufacturer.
To cut down on interference, you can check what frequency your cordless phones and Wi-Fi routers run on. The most common frequencies for analogue monitors are 49MHz, 900MHz and 2.4GHz.
Digital baby monitors
Digital baby monitors offer the same functionality as analogue models. Due to their digital signal the sound quality is clearer with these monitors, and they are susceptible to less interference. Cordless phones and wireless routers can still cause a little static on the line.
Due to their improved performance digital baby monitors are more expensive, although their price has come down in recent years as the technology has become more widely used.
DECT baby monitor
A Digital-Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication (DECT) baby monitor is a good choice if you want to ensure that your baby monitor is completely interference free. Since DECT monitors use a frequency that is newer and less widely used you should find that their signal gives extra clarity. Due to this they do tend to be a little more expensive than other monitors.
Video baby monitors
Digital and DECT baby monitors are both available in models that are video capable. This means you can see your baby as they sleep. This has obvious advantages and lets you rest easy while your baby does the same. These so called 'baby cams' are becoming more popular but are also more expensive than audio monitors.
If you are wondering whether or not to buy a video monitor, do think seriously about it. Do you have to be able to see your baby all the time or might this just make you more anxious? If you decide to buy one, check that the sound is good as well so you can use it solely as an audio monitor without having to be glued to the screen.
Newer models allow you to move the camera remotely, so that you can always keep a close eye on your little one. Some baby monitors with video even offer night vision that gives you the ability to see your baby even when the lights are off. This is particularly handy during the darker winter evenings, or if you use blackout blinds.
Video monitors come with either a small handheld, portable screen (with sound), or with a larger screen that you leave in one place in another room. Some offer a zoom function.
Generally video monitors have a shorter range and battery life than audio monitors. In homes with thick walls range can be a problem.
Battery and mains operated baby monitors
Another aspect of baby monitors is whether they are mains or battery operated. One of the most popular options is to have a combination that has a mains-connected base unit and a battery-run parent unit.
This means that the parent unit is portable and, as long as it is in range, you can carry it round the house and the baby unit will stay fully charged. Using a portable parent unit can run down batteries quite quickly, though by using rechargeable batteries you can save some extra money on battery costs.
If you live in a flat or a small house and you don't need to carry around the parent unit, a monitor that needs both units plugged into the mains socket could be a better idea if you don't require the extra flexibility. Mains powered monitors tend to be cheaper and easier to use, but won't work if there's a power cut.
Find a baby monitor that meets your needs
Firstly, consider how you'll need your baby monitor to work for you. Some parents are happy with a basic listening monitor, while other parents prefer the reassurance of the optional extras offered by some devices, like the video display. It's wise to think about where you will be using your monitor. If your house is very large, a long-range digital monitor with portable parent unit would work well. If you are in a block of flats with many neighbours, you might prefer digital encryption to guard your privacy.
Some monitors come with a belt clip for the parent unit - this can be useful if you move between rooms. Others alert you when you are no longer in listening range.
If you are buying two monitors to keep an eye or ear on different children, make sure the monitors are on different frequencies!
Noise sensitivity is another issue. If you are going to turn the sound way up so your baby's crying wakes you, you might be disturbed (to the point of not being able to sleep) by the buzzing background noise from your monitor. If you are a light sleeper, it's wise to buy a monitor which advertises microphone sensitivity, background noise filter, sound sensitivity, sound-activation, or voice-activation - so your baby is the only thing that keeps you awake!
Baby monitors for outdoor use
If you have a large house or intend to use your baby monitor in the garden, then a digital baby monitor with a portable parent unit is probably advisable. This is a good choice as it has a longer range and doesn't need power outside.
If you travel away from home a lot, a digital video baby monitor with Wi-Fi will let you see your baby from anywhere in the world via a mobile device, phone or laptop. This is a great function if mum or dad need to be away for work, for example. With remote access monitors you can record your baby and see larger images than on a traditional small video monitor.
Some models of baby monitor offer a motion sensor function that means if no movement, including breathing, is detected from your baby for 20 seconds it triggers an alarm. Some parents might find this reassuring, but false alarms could also make you very anxious. Bear in mind that there's no evidence that motion sensor monitors can prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Driving along with a newborn you can't see can be very stressful. Are they asleep or worryingly quiet? Why are they crying? Are they in a comfortable position? Thankfully there are now travel baby monitors. The monitor sits in the space traditionally occupied by Satnavs nowadays, and you can watch your baby whenever you need - and it's safe - to do so. Some of these monitors also have excellent night vision features.
Useful additional features
There are a variety of extra features for baby monitors, such as the variable light display, which shows when and how much noise your baby is making even if the sound is disabled. These can be useful for times when you're awake and monitoring your baby.
An 'out of range' indicator when you move too far from the base unit is another good feature.
Some monitors have a room temperature sensor to make sure that the room temperature is always safe and comfortable for your child. Others boast a nightlight for babies who don't like total darkness, and some even offer two-way functionality letting you soothe your baby from another room. Some very clever devices play lullabies or comforting sounds which you can trigger from the parent unit.
'Talkback' functions mean you can talk to your baby via a mic in the parent unit. This can be very soothing for anxious babies - and can save you going up and down the stairs countless times every evening. Imagine that multiplied over a year!
Please make sure all monitors with cords are well out of reach of your baby from the get go. Your newborn won't be able to reach through a cot to grab a cord, but your 6 month old will. Also, please keep monitors away from water.
Some baby monitor buying mistakes to avoid
Buying a monitor that does not suit your personality. Just because video monitors have been invented doesn't mean you need to have one. If you are very anxious by nature an audio only monitor might be more sensible
Buying the wrong monitor for your needs. Think about what you need your monitor to do before you go shopping! Then, if you need something simple and cost-effective that's what you will get
Buying a noisy or distractingly bright monitor. Remember, your sleep is important too! If the parent unit is flashing and buzzing right next to you, will you be able to rest?
Wi-Fi problems - buying a Wi-Fi monitor? Check Wi-Fi in your baby's room before you buy your monitor! Weak Wi-Fi will mean that your monitor may not work.
Charge and battery problems - try and remember to charge your monitor, and buy many batteries for it at the same time so you won't run out.
Monitors are not a substitute for adult supervision
Whichever baby monitor you choose, remember it is no substitute for adult supervision and should only be used as an extra reassurance for you, or for whoever is watching your baby.